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6 Reasons reading before bed may be the healthiest thing you do today

Based out of Dallas, Texas, Mary McCoy is a writer and social worker for disenfranchised women and children. She's a single mom, lover of Texas barbecue, and a die-hard fan of yoga

The awesome health benefits of reading a book before you go to bed

Don't put down your page-turner just yet. Your daily ritual of reading before bed might just hold the secret to improved health and well-being.

Here are some of the health benefits you might enjoy if you read a book right before you catch some zzz.

1. Reading improves cognitive function

Avid readers tend to perform better on tests of cognitive functioning than those who don't regularly read. In fact, research published out of Northern Illinois University found that readers test higher in vocabulary and generalized knowledge than non-readers, so a quick read at bedtime can actually make you smarter.

2. It can mitigate mild mental health concerns

Feeling depressed or anxious? You're not alone. Anxiety and depression are the most commonly reported mental health concerns in the United States. While a book is never a fail-safe treatment for a mental health issue, general practitioners in Britain have begun prescribing book reading to patients who suffer from mild to moderate depression and anxiety, and many of these patients report an alleviation of their symptoms as a result.

3. A bedtime reading ritual can enhance your sleep

According to the National Sleep Foundation, a relaxing reading ritual can prepare your body for sleep and help your mind separate your sleep time from the stresses of daily living. A winding-down ritual can help people fall asleep faster and enjoy a higher quality of sleep throughout the night.

More: 5 Energy healing exercises that kill stress almost immediately

4. Reading can stave off Alzheimer's

Although Alzheimer's is not a preventable disease, certain habits can help protect the brain's functioning, and are associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's. Any activity that stimulates the brain is protective against Alzheimer's, so the National Institute on Aging suggests that adults read regularly to keep mental functioning strong.

5. It reduces cortisol levels

Cortisol isn't always a bad thing. It helps to rouse people from sleep in the morning, and also helps them address and overcome acute stress. Unfortunately, cortisol can begin to wreak havoc on the body, when it remains at high levels, as the result of chronic stress. It can lead to weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, depression and chronic fatigue. Reading before bed can help to lower the body's cortisol levels by reducing stress. The result? A body with lower levels of cortisol is more likely to sleep soundly, and thus cope with the following day's stressors more calmly.

More: The harmful preservative you didn't know was in your body products

6. Reading may improve your empathy

Emotional intelligence is a key to developing healthy relationships, but many people forgo developing their empathetic responses. Research published in the journal Science, however, indicates that the development of empathy is easier than many might think. If you read literary fiction before bed, you're more likely to understand others' emotions and mental processes, which can improve the quality of your relationships.

What book do you plan to pick up tonight?

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